Emily LakdawallaJan 02, 2014

Pretty picture: Two crescents: New moon, old Venus

In the western sky, a brand-new Moon has risen past a switfly plunging Venus crescent, making for some really beautiful sunset photos of the two thin crescents together. Spaceweather.com is one great place to go for amateur shots of sky events like these.

Two crescents: New moon, old Venus
Two crescents: New moon, old Venus A day-old Moon and a waning Venus crescent appeared very close to each other in the sunset sky on January 2, 2014 (left). Cutting out and comparing the two crescents to each other shows their similar illumination but dissimilar sizes (right). Venus, roughly four times the diameter of the Moon, was near inferior conjunction so about 50 million kilometers away (more than 100 times farther away than the Moon).Image: Pal Varadi Nagy

Venus has been a brilliant beacon in the western sky for a while now; it's approaching Earth on the inside track of its race around the Sun, so even though its crescent is waning, its bright clouds still reflect sunshine brilliantly for a couple more days. But it'll be at inferior conjunction (essentially, between us and the Sun) on January 11, so by the end of the month will be a brilliant morning star.

When I first saw this particular image, on Twitter, only the right-hand panel was shared, showing the two crescents incredibly close to each other:

Moon and Venus crescents
Moon and Venus crescents This is a composite photo; the crescents were not actually this close to each other in the sky at the time they were photographed.Image: Pál Váradi Nagy

I thought the image was very striking and immediately contacted the photographer for permission to use it here. But as I was researching the conjunction, I noticed that the other photos taken from eastern Europe and shared on spaceweather.com today showed the two crescents much farther apart, and found my way to Nagy's composite photo that showed his original picture (the left panel above) along with the right panel, which, as it turns out, was not a single photo but rather a mosaic made to show the lovely similarity between the shapes of the crescents. It's easy to see upon close examination that it's a mosaic (the quality of the sky is different around the inset Venus than it is around the main image of the Moon), but I didn't realize it was one when I first looked at it. It's a lesson to me of the value in going back to the source for a photo before I share it!

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